Connecting with connection

The therapeutic relationship offers the client a connection of the mind, an attunement and co-regulation.


Being connected with another person who is regulated and congruent in their own nervous system, offers a safe space and a flow of energy which transmits via neurotransmitters in the brain from one person to another, to signal that the person is in their ventral vagal state of calmness, (Dana, 2021).

Clients come into counselling when they are dysregulated, anxious, depressed, incongruent and either in a fight/flight state or a dorsal shutdown nervous state. Experiencing being stuck in these autonomic nervous states causes emotional distress, which is supported throughout the connection and relationship with the counsellor. 

Becoming aware of the safe, calm social engagement, of the ventral vagus state of the counsellor, will be felt by the client. This can be in the soft tone of voice, open body language, friendly and inviting welcome and being able to hold the client's fear, to help them co-regulate in the room and sense how the connection to a supportive, congruent and calm other person, can soothe their nervous state enough, to engage with the session.

The realisation that it is normal to move into a fight/flight state when there is a threat to their nervous system, detected unconsciously and without awareness. This is the body protecting itself from a real or perceived threat. 

If the danger is life-threatening, or the body is frozen and unable to move, the dorsal shutdown protects the person in this moment.

Having someone to listen, without judgement and accept you can move your nervous system from a hyper-vigilant fight/flight or a shutdown one, into a ventral vagal social engagement, with the connection of another person who is offering a regulation in safety.

As well as the safety of connection and the shift into a calm nervous state, connecting with nature and experiencing the changes within it, can regulate your nervous system and awaken a dorsal shutdown by moving into a mobilisation state. The flight state can be soothed by being in tune with nature, listening to the waves, looking at the horizon, watching a sunset, observing a squirrel and listening to the birds or wind blowing through the trees. The grounding connection of nature nurtures the nervous system and our body responds by regulating itself in a state of social engagement.

People who have experienced early childhood trauma or a traumatic situation can internalise the feelings and become stuck in a threat response. This may not become in their conscious awareness until connecting with counselling and accepting that their body automatically protects them from danger, but when there is no threat and the body is stuck in a sympathetic state, connecting with a counsellor can support their own connection to themselves.

Once the person becomes aware of their own nervous system and how it responds to situations, it is possible for them to find a choice that can benefit them, in how they would prefer to respond or calm their state by doing something that gives them a safe space by doing things like breathing techniques, going for a walk, listening to music and regulating their own system, so that after counselling, the client can learn to tune into the state and discover what is effective for them to shift from threat to safety, through connection with their own nervous state.


  • Dana, D. (2021) Anchored, How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory, USA, Sounds True.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, G78
Written by Anita Struthers, MBACP
Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, G78

I am a person-centred counsellor, trained at the Clyde College, Glasgow and gained a diploma in Counselling.
I recently completed an Advanced Course with the Polyvagal Theory and am influenced by Dr Stephen Porgess, Dr Deb Dana, Peter Lavine, Dr, Bruce Perry, Dr Gabor Mate, and many others.
My own experiences of life have shaped my understandings.

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